HOUSTON, Texas — The high octaves that pierced the walls of Minute Maid Park during the pregame ceremonies was quickly sent down a steep slope when Jorge Soler launched a lead-off home run in the top of the first inning to shift momentum the Braves way in Game 1 of the 2021 World Series. Momentum that would not falter as the Braves 6-2 defeat the Houston Astros Tuesday night.
Prior to the release of the Game 1 lineup, there was heavy debate whether Soler should bat in the lead-off spot after having a total of 12 career games in the lead-off position and ALCS MVP Eddie Rosario seeing a vast amount of success leading the charge. That discussion was quickly eradicated when the 29-year-old designated hitter hammered a 94-mph sinker into the sea of Astros fans in left-field to get the World Series underway with a loud bang. Soler became the first player in Major League Baseball history to hit a lead-off home run in the first inning of a World Series.
Trade deadline acquisitions like Soler — traded from the Kansas City Royals on July 30 — have been the bridge to success for the Braves organization. After splitting the season between both the American and National League, Soler has managed to swing for the long ball with 27 home runs and notch in 70 RBI in the regular season.
Soler’s lead-off intrusion set off a trickle effect down the Braves lineup that saw every hitter accumulate at least one hit. The Braves would quickly mount on another run in the first inning with an RBI double from Austin Riley, scoring homegrown second baseman Ozzie Albies.
“I think we’ve all done a good job,” Soler said regarding the trades that have become the trades of the century. “I think for me, it was a little bit challenging, especially when I got traded right away, just because of the language barrier. I couldn’t speak English very well. So I just assumed that I was going to have a hard time making those connections with some of the English-speaking players. But after a weekend, that wasn’t the case. I felt like I was already here playing with my brothers. I felt like there was really good chemistry within the clubhouse itself, and I feel like now our sole purpose is to go out there and win games.”
The Astros kept faith in Framber Valdez but could not hold onto the faith for long, as the 27-year-old fell into hot water in three consecutive innings. The only relief came in the second inning when navigating through a bases-loaded jam. However, luck would run dry come the third inning, as Valdez gave up a single to Rosario and a two-run homer to Adam Duvall before being yanked for his Game 1 efforts. The left-handed pitcher would end the night going two innings, falling victim to five runs on eight hits, a walk and, two strikeouts.
This would be the second time in the 2021 postseason that Valdez got the boot in the third inning, after giving up two earned runs in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Valdez saw much success in the 2020 postseason but has been unable to replicate the same success in this year’s postseason with inconsistent October appearances.
“It was my first World Series game, so I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t feel the pressure, I didn’t feel any kind of tension. But I did everything I could to lower that, lower the adrenaline, lower the emotion I was feeling,” Valdez said after the Game 1 loss. “I was able to get out of the inning by just giving out a couple of runs and came back out for the second and out for the third and tried to attack guys. It’s done with now. I’ll just have to come back in the next outing and do everything I can and work to be better next time.”
Nothing is more heart-wrenching than witnessing a player walk into the dugout with an excruciating expression on their face to indicate the amount of pain they’re enduring. Unfortunately, Braves starter Charlie Morton suffered a devastating injury that has sidelined him for the rest of the 2021 World Series. Morton was diagnosed with a right fibula fracture after being hit with a line drive off the bat of Yuli Gurriel in the second inning. Morton continued to pitch into the third until he felt an immense amount of pain as his leg gave up on him after striking out Jose Altuve.
The Braves, who have battled through devastating blows from season-ending injuries, continue to trek on and find the right players to optimize each given moment when their backs are vigorously against the wall.
“With Charlie going, just finishing that inning and going back out and facing the hitter, he struck out a guy on a broken leg. It’s pretty remarkable,” A.J. Winter — who replaced Morton in the third inning — said on Morton’s efforts to stay in the game. “I wish it wouldn’t have happened to Charlie. He’s a leader. But like I said, we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to keep going.”
According to the Braves, Morton is expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2022.
The Astros would tack on their first run of the game in the fourth inning after an error by Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, allowing Kyle Tucker to score. The second run came with an aspiring late-game rally in the bottom of the eighth inning that started with a triple by Yordan Álvarez — the only player in MLB history to have multiple triples in a postseason, the last one coming from Game 6 of the ALCS — raised a sliver of momentum. The designated-hitter scored on a Carlos Correa grounder, but the rally quickly was put to rest as Tyler Matzek retired the next two batters.
With eight hits and nine batters left on base, the Astros offense struggled to score runs and crush through the wall the Braves bullpen heavily fortified.
The Braves and Astros return to Minute Maid Park for Game 2 on Wednesday at 8:09 p.m. EST. México native José Urquidy will try to give the Astros the mound support needed to stop a Braves lineup that has found their stride. Max Freid will enter his 16th postseason game in hopes of giving the Braves a 2-0 edge when the series shifts over to Truist Park in Atlanta for Game 3 of the Fall Classic.
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